Neurodiversity, Spirituality & Sensitivity

In our recent Neurodiverse Spirituality Zoom discussion we talked about how the particular sensitivities of neurodiverse people, whether they are ADHD, autistic, dyslexic etc, might relate to spirituality. We discussed such issues as how neurodiverse people can find their environment overwhelming as we experience our senses and emotions very intensely. Similarly, with expressions of our spirituality, people may be surprised at the depth of our experiences.

As usual I began by giving a short reflection on the topic, which you can see here:  

Here are some of my further reflections prompted by the discussion that followed. 

Neurodiverse people may find environments overwhelming

Everyday society can be too loud and fast paced for many neurodiverse people. You may notice that people with neurodiversities often use equipment to help them cope with challenging environments. These may include noise cancelling headphones and dark glasses.

We can often find environments stressful whether at work or elsewhere. For example, we may not cope well with open-plan offices, and/or have adverse experiences of gossip and bullying. I think a number of us have found the recent pandemic much easier as we can often prefer to be online and need time to ourselves. It is important for others to understand this so that they can give us the space that we need.

It is important for us to build resilience to challenging environments and relax to recover after experiencing them. There are a number of strategies we use such as the calming and uplifting value of music, the value of reflection and meditation, as well as spiritual practices including prayer and fasting.

In addition, in many of our daily activities we tend to need to use the logical left-side of our brain, especially at work. Getting in touch with the creativity of the right-side can, for some, be an important way to survive in these environments too. 

Neurodiverse emotions may be very strong but expressed differently.
Sometimes, as neurodiverse people, we may be thought to not experience emotions. This is because it can take us longer to process our emotions, put words to them and display the appropriate facial expressions. Nevertheless, we do tend to experience emotions intensely. The positive side of this is that it can mean that we feel we are fully alive. However, at times, this emotional intensity can also make us more vulnerable to our feelings being hurt.

It’s not just our own emotions that we experience deeply we can sometimes experience other people’s emotions empathically. Some may feel better just being with a neurodiverse person as conversations may flow naturally because of this empathy. Other neurodiverse people may struggle to read body language, yet they may still pick up people’s feelings intuitively. Either way, these experiences can be overwhelming for us but they can result in a deep compassion for others.   

Neurodiverse people can have deep spiritual experiences.

As neurodiverse individuals, we can find we have deep spiritual experiences as well as this empathy with others. Our sensitivities may mean that we are more comfortable spending time on our own in contemplation, thinking about spiritual issues. For some of us this may lead to experiences that some would call mystical. This might include a deep a sense of oneness with the universe, or other unusual feelings and impressions including specific mental images or visions. However, I am aware that I cannot say that our spiritual experiences are deeper than or even significantly different to others’ as I don’t think we have any way of measuring this.

The sensitivities that come with neurodiversities may also mean that we are prone to spiritual crises. We may have been overwhelmed by adverse circumstances and emotions that we find difficult to process. An illness or other traumatic event might have lead us to question our previous beliefs. Working this though with someone who understands us may be vital to our spiritual journey. This could be a trusted friend, someone from our spiritual community or a professional counsellor or spiritual director. Though an experience like this may be awful to go through, it can actually lead us to a spiritual awakening where we find the strength to reinvent ourselves and connect with new people with whom we can be more authentic.

If you want to explore these issues further, we’d love to see you at our monthly Zoom discussions. You can register here for a Zoom link.

David Derbyshire
 (he/ him) is IGB’s Neurodiversity Lead and runs our monthly Neurodiverse Spirituality sessions. David is the founder of Asperger’s Heroes CIC coaching adults on the autistic spectrum.This draws on his lived-experience of receiving a late diagnosis of Asperger syndrome.He recently completed a Masters in Spirituality including a dissertation on the spirituality of autism.